Institute of Politics

Regional Water Management Task Force

The Regional Water Management Task Force was an 11-county effort between 2006 and 2009 to improve water management and water quality in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Our region is endowed with an abundance of water, but we also face many challenges:

  • In more urban areas, sewer overflows release billions of gallons of untreated sewage into our rivers every year.
  • In rural areas, failing septic tanks also release raw sewage into the environment, and minerals from abandoned coalmines leak into nearby waterways, depleting oxygen, killing fish, and leaving Southwestern Pennsylvania with thousands of miles of “dead” or “degraded” streams.
  • Our region's floods have become more frequent as stormwater management continues to be disconnected from land use planning. Hurricane Ivan in 2004 was an especially dramatic reminder that flooding can affect almost all of us.

The costs of addressing sewage overflows, abandoned mine drainage, and poor stormwater management will be staggering – conservatively estimated at billions of dollars – and these costs will only escalate as time goes on. The goal of the Regional Water Management Task Force was to reduce these costs and protect our region's most valuable asset by promoting increased regional collaboration and efficiency.

The Task Force was comprised of 18 high-level individuals appointed by their respective county governments. Dr. Jared Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University, served as chair of the Task Force, and Dr. Angelo Armenti, president of California University of Pennsylvania, was the vice chair. The Task Force was supported by several staff members and an extensive technical advisory committee consisting of roughly 90 individuals from environmental groups, utilities, businesses, planning entities, and municipal and state government.

Phase I – Report

From May through November 2006, as Phase I of its work plan, the Task Force carried out research to fill information gaps in our knowledge about water management in southwestern Pennsylvania. This work focused on five areas:

  • Benchmarking of similar regions
  • Survey of southwestern Pennsylvania 's authorities and municipalities
  • Detailed case studies to depict how various entities in southwestern Pennsylvania are dealing with their water management challenges
  • Assessment of the financial viability of existing entities in the region
  • Institutional analysis to identify possible alternatives that have worked elsewhere and that might be useful in this region.

Phase II - Stakeholder Engagement

The Task Force realized that changes can only occur after substantial public outreach, discussion, and consensus-building. Phase II consisted of extensive stakeholder engagement across the region. Fourteen two-hour public meetings were held across 11 counties in the region. The first half hour of each meeting was devoted to a presentation on the status of water quality and water management in the region, followed by a half-hour discussion period. The final hour was spent presenting and discussing possible institutional models that might work in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The project team distributed surveys and evaluation criteria, and then listened to public feedback on various alternatives. Anywhere between five and 50 people attended each meeting.

Municipalities and Authorities Survey

As part of its Phase I research, the Task Force sent out a voluntary survey to the region's 601 municipalities and 268 authorities to collect information about their water and sewage operations. This survey included information about customer base, billing, facilities, funding, and governance. The Task Force received a substantial response, with 45 percent of the authorities and 38 percent of the municipalities completing the survey. The Task Force compiled a six-page summary of noteworthy data from the survey, including supplemental data from DEP regarding tap-in restrictions.

Benchmarking Reports

The Task Force selected four regions for benchmarking based on their quality of performance in addressing issues like those that Southwestern Pennsylvania faces. An extensive (40-page) summary of what was learned is available below along with two policy briefs on financing and regulation.

Membership

Resource Information